The sensational character of Judith's Biblical story has drawn many artists, writers and filmmakers. Through the ages, Judith has been used to reflect on woman as seductress, warrior, avenger, patriot, politician and priest, and to explore questions of female virtue, sexuality and independence. What story could be more compelling or more culturally illuminating? This talk, by Judith Buchanan of the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, will include a variety of clips from D W Griffith's extraordinary silent film, Judith of Bethulia (1913).
The story of the Apocrypha’s Judith involves a daring sexual charade, a brazen act of decapitation and a healthy dose of sang froid. Unsurprisingly, the conspicuous paradoxes inherent in the tale (murderess sexuality mixed with ardent piety), its sensational character (defenceless widow slays drunken general) and symbolic appeal (woman as seductress, warrior, avenger, revolutionary, patriot, politician, priest) have made of it one to which writers and artists of all media have been repeatedly drawn across the centuries. Its visually suggestive elements have provided rich pickings as its central character has been repeatedly reconfigured to provide a means through which successive generations might reflect on female virtue, sexuality, violence, piety and the citizen’s obligations to the state in time of need.
This talk is one of many events taking place as part of York Festival of Ideas. For more information see www.yorkfestivalofideas.com.
The Judith passed down to us from her rich artistic heritage is a vibrantly impressive figure and one almost bursting to escape from some of the containing implications of her own story. The final chapter of The Book of Judith seems keen to neuter the politically and sexually unruly heroine the preceding story has so vigorously launched on the world. Is there a hint of relief detectable in the story’s eventual report of her death so that she can now be ‘buried in her husband’s tomb’ – exactly where she belongs? What have successive ages chosen to do with the tensions discernible in the telling of the tale?
Dr Judith Buchanan is Senior Lecturer in Film and Literature in the University of York’s Department of English and Related Literature and an expert on silent cinema and its associations with the other arts. In this talk she draws our attention to the overlooked detail of the biblical story and then provides a lively tour of some of Judith’s multiple identities across time and cultural forms. Staging posts on the tour will include Carvaggio, Etty, two stage plays, a sentimental novel and some illustrative film clips from D W Griffith’s silent moving picture Judith of Bethulia (1913). Screen star Blanche Sweet’s wonderfully modulated, and affecting, performance as the re-sexualised widow of Griffith’s film will be of particular interest in considering Judith’s evolving story.
- 'Judith's vampish virtue in film, art and literature' takes place in the De Grey Lecture Theatre, York St John University at 6.00pm on Monday 27 June. Admission is by free ticket only, available from yorkfestivalofideas.com/tickets/.